Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Cytokinins in nematodes
To investigate cytokinins (CKs) in nematodes, CK profiles of a free-living Caenorhabditis elegans and a plant parasitic Heterodera glycines (soybean cyst nematode, SCN) were determined at the egg and larval stages. SCN had higher total CK level than C. elegans; however, CKs in SCN were mostly inactive precursors, whereas C. elegans had more bioactive forms. This is the first study to show that methylthiols are present in nematodes and may affect plant infection. In infectious SCN larvae, methylthiol levels were much higher than in eggs or C. elegans larvae. Furthermore, The CK profiles of SCN-susceptible and resistant Glycine max cultivars at three developmental stages revealed that, regardless of the resistance level, SCN infection caused an increase in root CKs. One resistant cultivar, Pion 93Y05, showed significantly high levels of bioactive N6-isopentenyladenine (iP) in the non-infected roots which indicated a potential role of CKs in soybean resistance to SCN. Author Keywords: Cytokinins, HPLC-MS/MS, Nematode, SCN resistance, Soybean
Characterization of a Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor in Ustilago maydis and its role in pathogenesis
Ustilago maydis (D.C.) Corda is a biotrophic pathogen that secretes effectors to establish and maintain a relationship with its host, Zea mays. In this pathosystem, the molecular function of effectors is well-studied, but the regulation of effector gene expression remains largely unknown. This study characterized Zfp1, a putative U. maydis Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor, as a modulator of effector gene expression. The amino acid sequence of Zfp1 indicated the presence of a GAL4-like zinc binuclear cluster as well as a fungal specific transcription factor domain. Nuclear localization was confirmed by tagging Zfp1 with enhanced green fluorescent protein. Deletion of zfp1 resulted in attenuated hyphal growth, reduced infection frequency, an arrest in pathogenic development, and decreased anthocyanin production. This phenotype can be attributed to the altered transcript levels of genes encoding predicted and confirmed U. maydis effectors in the zfp1 deletion strain during pathogenic growth. Complementation of zfp1 deletion strain with tin2, an effector involved in anthocyanin induction, suggested this effector is downstream of Zfp1 and its expression is influenced by this transcription factor during in planta growth. When wild-type zfp1 was ectopically inserted in the zfp1 deletion strain, pathogenesis and virulence were partially restored. This, coupled with zfp1 over-expression strains having a similar phenotype as the deletion strains, suggested Zfp1 may interact with other proteins for full function. These findings show that Zfp1, in conjunction with one or more binding partners, contributes to U. maydis pathogenesis, virulence, and anthocyanin production through the regulation of effector gene expression. Author Keywords: effector, pathogenesis, transcription factor, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays, zinc finger
Cytokinin biosynthesis, signaling and translocation during the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem
Cytokinins (CKs) are hormones that promote cell division. During the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem, the levels of CKs are elevated. Although CK levels are increased, the origins of these CKs have not been determined and it is unclear as to whether they promote the formation of tumors. To determine this, we measured the CK levels, identified CK biosynthetic genes as well as CK signaling genes and measured the transcript levels during pathogenesis. By correlating the transcript levels to the CK levels, our results suggest that increased biosynthesis and signaling of CKs occur in both organisms. The increase in CK biosynthesis by the pathosystem could lead to an increase in CK signaling via CK translocation and promote tumor formation. Taken together, these suggest that CK biosynthesis, signaling and translocation play a significant role during the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem. Author Keywords: Biosynthesis, Cytokinins, Signaling, Translocation, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays
Functional Investigation of A Ustilago maydis Xylose Metabolism Gene and its Antisense Transcripts
Ustilago maydis is a biotrophic fungal plant pathogen that causes ‘common smut of corn’ disease. During infection, U. maydis develops a metabolic dependency on its host, relying on uptake of the carbon molecules provided within Zea mays tissues. The research presented indicated a requirement for metabolism of the pentose sugar D-xylose through functional investigation of a U. maydis xylitol dehydrogenase (uxm1), an enzyme involved in the bioconversion of D-xylose. This work is the first to outline the importance of pentose metabolism during biotrophic plant pathogenesis, as U. maydis haploid cells lacking this gene were impaired in their ability to cause disease and grow on medium containing only D-xylose. This thesis also explored the possibility that expression of this carbon-related gene is controlled by antisense RNAs (asRNAs), endogenous molecules with complementarity to mRNAs. Previous investigation of U. maydis asRNAs identified some that are exclusively expressed in the dormant teliospore, suggesting they have a functional role within this cell-type. A subset of these asRNAs at the uxm1 locus were investigated, with the purpose of identifying the mechanism(s) by which they influence U. maydis pathogenesis. This investigation involved the creation and functional analysis of a series of U. maydis deletion and expression strains. Together, these findings provided additional knowledge regarding the possible functions of U. maydis asRNAs, and their involvement in controlling important cellular processes, such as carbon metabolism and pathogenesis. Author Keywords: antisense transcripts, fungal carbon metabolism, non-coding RNAs, pathogenesis, Ustilago maydis, xylitol dehydrogenase
Interactome Study of Giardia Intestinalis Cytochromes B5
Giardia intestinalis is an anaerobic protozoan that lacks common eukaryotic heme-dependent respiratory complexes and does not encode any proteins involved in heme biosynthesis. Nevertheless, the parasite encodes several hemeproteins, including three members of the Type II cytochrome b5 sub-group of electron transport proteins found in anaerobic protist and amitochondriate organisms. Unlike the more well-characterized cytochrome b5s of animals, no function has been ascribed to any of the Type II proteins. To explore the functions of these Giardia cytochromes (gCYTB5s), I used bioinformatics, immunofluorescence microscopy (IFM) and co-immunoprecipitation assays. The protein-protein interaction in silico prediction tool, STRING, failed to identify relevant interacting partners for any of the Type II cytochromes b5 from Giardia or other organisms. Differential cellular localization of the gCYTB5s was detected by IFM: gCYTB5-I in the perinuclear space; gCYTB5-II in the cytoplasm with a staining pattern similar to peripheral vacuole-associated protein; and gCYTB5-III in the nucleus. Co-immunoprecipitation with the gCYTB5s as bait identified potential interacting proteins for each isotype. The most promising candidate is the uncharacterized protein GL50803_9861, which was identified in the immunoprecipitate of both gCYTB5-I and II, and which co-localizes with both. Structural analysis of GL50803_9861 using Swiss Model, Phyre2, I-TASSER and RaptorX predicts the presence of a nucleotide-binding domain, which is consistent with a potential redox role involving nicotinamide or flavin-containing cofactors. Finally, the protein GL50803_7204 which contains a RNA/DNA binding domain was identified a potential partner of gCYTB5-III. These findings represent the first steps in the discovery of the roles played by these proteins in Giardia. Author Keywords: Cytochrome b5, Giardia intestinalis, Heme, Interactome, Protein structure prediction
Studies of the Giardia intestinalis trophozoite cell cycle
To study the Giardia intestinalis cell cycle, counterflow centrifugal elutriation (CCE) was used to separate an asynchronous trophozoite culture into fractions enriched for cells at the different stages of the cell cycle. For my first objective, I characterized the appearance of a third peak (Peak iii) in our flow cytometry analysis of the CCE fractions that initially suggested the presence of 16N cells that are either cysts or the result of endoreplication of Giardia trophozoites. I determined that this third peak consists of doublets of the 8N trophozoites at the G2 stage of the cell cycle that were not removed effectively by gating parameters used in the analysis of the flow cytometry data. In the second objective, I tested the use of a spike with RNA from the GS isolate of Giardia as an external normalizer in RT-qPCR on RNA from CCE fractions and encystation cultures of Giardia from the WB isolate. My results showed that the GS RNA spike is as effective as the use of previously characterized internal normalizer genes for these studies. For the third objective, I prepared two sets of elutriation samples for RNA seq analysis to determine the transcriptome of the Giardia trophozoite cell cycle. I confirmed the results of the cell cycle specific expression of several genes we had previously tested by RT-qPCR. Furthermore, our RNA-seq identified many genes in common with those identified from a microarray analysis of the Giardia cell cycle conducted by a collaborator. Finally, I observed an overall <4 fold change in differentially expressed genes during the G1/S and G2/M phase of the cell cycle. This is a modest change in gene expression compared to 10 - 30 fold changes for orthologous genes in mammalian cell cycles. Author Keywords: Cell cycle, Counterflow Centrifugal Elutriation, Flow Cytometry, RNA-sequencing, RT-qPCR
Characterization of frog virus 3 and its binding partner LITAF
Iridoviruses are large (120-200nm) double stranded DNA viruses that contain an icosahedral capsid. The iridoviridae family is composed of five genera that infect a wide range of poikilothermic vertebrates (Lymphocystivirus, Ranavirus and Megalocyivirus) and invertebrate hosts (Iridovirus, Chloriridovirus). Frog virus 3 (FV3) is a member of the Ranavirus genus, and is commonly used as a model system to study iridoviruses. I was interested in understanding virus-host interaction in FV3. I studied two viral genes, FV3 97R and FV3 75L. Here I demonstrate that 97R localizes to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) at 24 hours post-transfection. However, at 35 hours post-transfection 97R localizes to the ER but also begins to form concentrated pockets, continuous with the nuclear membrane This study found that 97R possess a unique phenotype and that its localization to the ER is mediated through its C-terminus transmembrane domain. FV3 75L encodes an 84 amino acids protein. I showed that FV3 75L localizes to the early endosomes, while its cellular binding partner, LITAF, localizes to late endosome/lysosome. Interestingly, when FV3 75L and LITAF are co-transfected into cells, LITAF can alter the subcellular localization of FV3 75L to late endosome/lysosomes. A physical interaction between LITAF and FV3 75L was demonstrated through a pull-down assay and that a highly conserved domain found in both proteins may mediate the interaction. LITAF has been proposed to function in protein degradation, but there is still uncertainty on LITAF's specific role. I was interested in further characterizing LITAF and its implications in protein degradation and a neurodegenerative disorder. At least 9 mutations of LITAF are associated with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1C (CMT1C), which belongs to the group of most common heritable neuromuscular disorders, affecting approximately one in 2500 people. We show that LITAF mutants G112S and W116G mislocalize from the late endosome/lysosome to the mitochondria while the T49M and P135T mutants show partial mislocalization with a portion of the protein present in the late endosome/lysosome and a portion of the protein localized to the mitochondria. Since LITAF is believed to play a role in protein degradation, it is possible that the specific characteristics of CMT1C may occur though impaired degradation of Schwann cell membrane proteins, such as PMP22. I was able to show that when WT LITAF is present, there is a decrease in the PMP22 intracellular levels, which suggest that LITAF plays an important role in protein degradation, and also in other types of CMT. Insight into how mutations in LITAF cause CMT1C may not only help better understand cellular pathways, but also further elucidate the role LITAF's viral homolog FV3 75L during viral infection. Author Keywords: 75L, Charcot-Marie-Tooth, CMTC1, ER, FV3, LITAF
Regulation of Cytokinins During Kernel Development in High and Low Yielding Oat and Barley Lines
Cytokinins (CKs) are a family of plant phytohormones responsible for many areas of plant growth and development. There are four free base types of CKs found in higher plants, trans-zeatin (tZ), N6-(∆2-isopentenyl)adenine (iP), cis-Zeatin (cZ) and dihydrozeatin (DZ). CK biosynthesis is regulated by adenosine phosphate-isopentenyltransferase (IPT), which is encoded by a multi-gene family in many plant species. There are two types of IPT pathways responsible for CK production, the tRNA pathway and the AMP (ATP/ADP) pathway. The tRNA pathway putatively produces cZ and the latter predominantly produces iP type nucleotides. CKs have long been studied for their role in stress tolerance, signal transduction, and involvement in many areas of plant growth and development. This study focuses on the role of CKs and CK biosynthesis by IPT during kernel development and comparisons of its regulation in high and low yielding barley and oat lines. The sequence of a putative IPT encoding gene in barley and oat was identified by a blast search of other known IPT gene fragments in closely related species. Quantitative Real time PCR results based on primers designed for the putative barley and oat IPT gene revealed changes in expression of IPT during different stages of kernel development, but no significance difference was associated with yield. Correlation of IPT gene expression in barley with cZ CK profiles measured by HPLC-MS/MS, confirms a putative IPT gene is a tRNA- IPT. HPLC-MS/MS results reveal some CK types, such as benzyladenine, are more predominant in higher yielding lines. This suggests different types of CKs play a role in yield production. Future studies on more IPT genes in the barley and oat IPT gene family will outline a more clear representation of the role of IPT in barley kernel development. Author Keywords: Benzyladenine, Cereal grain, Cytokinin, Isopentenyl Transferase, Mass Spectrometry, Real Time PCR
Mutation of the B10 Tyrosine and E11 Leucine in Giardia intestinalis Flavohemoglobin
The flavohemoglobin in Giardia intestinalis (gFlHb) is the only known protozoan member of a protein class typically associated with detoxifying nitric oxide (by oxidation to nitrate) in bacteria and yeast. Mutants of the B10 tyrosine (Y30F) and E11 leucine (L58A), conserved residues thought to influence ligand binding, were expressed and studied using Resonance Raman (RR) spectroscopy. In the wild type protein, RR conducted using a carbon monoxide probe detects two distinct Fe-CO stretches associated with two different active site configurations. In the open configuration, CO does not interact with any polar side chains, while in the closed configuration, CO strongly interacts with one or more distal residues. Analysis of the Y30F mutant provided direct evidence of this tyrosine’s role in ligand stabilization, as it had only a single Fe-CO stretching mode. This stretching mode was higher in energy than the open conformer of the wild type, indicating a residual hydrogen bonding interaction, likely provided by the E7 glutamine (Q54). In contrast the L58A mutant had no effect on the configurational nature of the enzyme. This was unexpected, as the side chain of L58 sits atop the heme and is thought to regulate the access of distal residues to the heme-bound ligand. The similar spectroscopic properties of wild type and L58A suggest that any such regulation would involve rapid conformational dynamics within the heme pocket. Author Keywords: B10 Tyrosine, Catalytic Globin, E11 Leucine, Flavohemoglobin, gFlHb, Giardia intestinalis
Electrochemical Characterization of Giardia Intestinalis Cytochromes b5
Giardia intestinalis is a protozoan parasite that causes waterborne diarrheal disease in animals and humans. It is an unusual eukaryote as it lacks the capacity for heme biosynthesis; nonetheless it encodes heme proteins, including three cytochrome b5 isotypes (gCYTB5s) of similar size. Homology modelling of their structures predicts increased heme pocket polarity compared to mammalian isotypes, which would favour the oxidized state and lower their reduction potentials (E°’). This was confirmed by spectroelectrochemical experiments, which measured E°’ of -171 mV, -140 mV and -157 mV for gCYTB5-I, II, III respectively, compared to +7 mV for bovine microsomal cytochrome b5. To explore the influence of heme pocket polarity in more detail, five gCYTB5-I mutants in which polar residues were replaced by nonpolar residues at one of three positions were investigated. While these substitutions all increased the reduction potential, replacement of a conserved tyrosine residue at position-61 with phenylalanine had the most significant effect, raising E°’ by 106 mV. This tyrosine residue occurs in all gCYTB5s and is likely the greatest contributor to their low reduction potentials. Finally, complementary substitutions were made into a bovine microsomal cytochrome b5 triple mutant to lower its reduction potential. These not only lowered the E°’ by more than 140 mV but also weakened the interaction of heme with the protein. The lower reduction potentials of the gCYTB5s may indicate that these proteins have different roles from their more well-known mammalian counterparts. Author Keywords:
Legume species, nitrogen rate and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi inoculation effects on crop biomass and nitrogen requirement in a corn-legume system
Interseeding legume cover crops in grain corn may improve the environmental sustainability of corn production system in Southern Ontario. This study aimed to assess the effects of legume species, nitrogen (N) fertilizer rate and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) inoculation on biomass and N requirement in a corn-legume system. Corn was grown with red clover (RCl), microclover (MCl), hairy vetch (HV), or beans at 10 and 80 kg N ha-1 rates with and without AMF inoculation in a greenhouse for 7 weeks. Corn dry matter (DM) and N uptake were reduced by beans and HV (average 35%) compared with control; however, the DM for beans and HV was 7 and 3 times higher than RCl and MCl, respectively. The N2 fixation ability was similar among legume species and no significant N transfer from legume was detected. Overall, species collection was critical to the success of incorporating legumes into grain corn production. Author Keywords: Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, corn, legume cover crop, nitrogen
Natural antisense transcripts to nucleus-encoded mitochondrial genes are linked to Ustilago maydis teliospore dormancy
Ustilago maydis is a basidiomycete smut fungus and the causal agent of common smut of corn. Disease progression and fungal development in this pathogen occur in planta, terminating in the production of dormant teliospores. Dormant spores of many fungi are characterized by reduced metabolic activity, which is restored during spore germination. The transition out of dormancy requires the rapid translation of stored mRNAs, which may be stabilized through natural antisense transcript (NAT)-mediated mechanisms. Transcript analysis revealed that as-ssm1, a NAT to the mitochondrial seryl-tRNA synthetase (ssm1), is detected in the dormant teliospore and absent in haploid cells. Disruption of ssm1 leads to cell lysis, indicating it is essential for cellular viability. Presented data supports the hypothesis that as-ssm1 has a role in facilitating teliospore dormancy through stabilizing ssm1 transcripts, which reduces mitochondrial function. as-ssm1 expression during in planta development begins 10 days post-infection, coinciding with the first appearance of dormant teliospores. To assess the impact of as-ssm1 expression on cell division, virulence and mitochondrial function, as-ssm1 was ectopically expressed in haploid cells, leading to increased ssm1 transcript levels and the formation of double-stranded RNA. These expression mutants are characterized by attenuated growth rate, virulence, mitochondrial membrane potential and oxygen consumption. Together, these findings support a role for NATs in moderating mitochondrial function during the onset of teliospore dormancy. Author Keywords: Dormant teliospore, Mitochondria, mRNA stability, Natural antisense transcripts, Non-coding RNA, Ustilago maydis


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